Between Catholicism and Marxism

For much of the 20th century, the Catholic Church and the worldwide communist movement were pitted against one another, portrayed as natural enemies by the highest echelons of the Church hierarchy, including the virulently anti-communist Pope John Paul II. It was a narrative that many were all too willing to accept.

To be sure, there wasn’t much overlap between Marxist circles and the Catholic community at large, with a few exceptions, including those who were drawn to Liberation theology in places like Nicaragua and El Salvador. Dorothy Day, a Lay Catholic who is now on the path to canonization, is another noteworthy exception to the Catholic Church’s general line on Marxism during the Cold War, for although she eventually distanced herself from formal association with communist organizations, she recalled her interactions with Marxists favorably, even in the aftermath of the first Red Scare.

The following excerpts are from the 1943 essay “About Mary,”[1] which appears in the Liturgical Press publication Hold Nothing Back: Writings by Dorothy Day.

“Across the street from where I lived, I think it was on St. Peter Street, there was the side entrance to the cathedral. Every night I used to go in there for Benediction. Perhaps I was influenced by reading the novels of Huysmans that I had borrowed from Sam Putnam’s library in Chicago. My roommate was Mary Gordon (when I last heard of her, she was working for the League for Spanish Democracy in Chicago, a Communist affiliate), and that Christmas she gave me a rosary. So in this case I was led to the Church through two Communists. I did not know how to say the rosary, but I got a little prayer book at a Catholic book store which I often visited, and I learned how.

[ . . . ]

One summer right after I became a Catholic I was taking care of a number of little boys from a school “for individual development.” Together with Freda, my next-door neighbor, whose friend it was who ran the school, we took the responsibility for about a dozen boys between eight and twelve. Quite a few of them were children of Communist parents, and several of them have grown up now to be members of the Young Communist League. I used to read them the “Little Flowers of Saint Francis,” which they enjoyed immensely, and they used to command each other “in the name of holy obedience” to perform this or that act of mischief. They also used to ask me to burn candles for them before the little blue statue of the Blessed Mother. Do any of them remember her now?”

Dorothy Day also drew upon her knowledge of the formative years of Marxism as a movement in her book Thérèse: A Life of Thérèse of Lisieux. Published in 1979, Thérèse includes chapters on the early lives of Saint Louis Martin and Saint Marie-Azélie Guérin, the parents of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

“Louis Martin lived in the days of the beginnings of revolutionary thought, of Kropotkin, whose thinking was shaped by the watchmakers of the Jura mountains where Louis himself studied. He lived in those vital years of 1850-1890 when Marxism and anarchism struggled for possession of the First International. He lived at the same time as Proudhon, the unMarxian socialist, as Father de Lubac, S.J., called him, who said “Property is theft.” I have often wondered whether in his long years of apprenticeship Louis Martin ever engaged in discussion of the social problems of the day. I am sure that there must have been some talk of the revolution of 1848, of the condition of the working classes.”

Though critical of “Bolshevism” in a number of her writings, Dorothy Day also expressed support for imprisoned American communists in 1949 and publicly sympathized with Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in 1961.

Copyrighted quotes presented under the terms of Fair Use.

[1] Originally published in Commonweal 39 (November 5, 1943): 62:63.


Posted in Catholicism, Cold War, commentaries, communism, marxism, USSR | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Between Catholicism and Marxism

Forgotten photos, rediscovered: White Birch on Sucker Creek

Some years ago, I bought an odd collection of items at a garage sale, including some Russian pins, a Masonic Bible, and a stack of about 20 black and white photos. I didn’t know the people in the photos, but they were very interesting and I kind of got the feeling that it would be a shame to just leave them there, as they were probably bound for the trash can if they didn’t sell. I think I ended up paying $2 for the photos (and just a bit more for the other aforementioned items.)

The pictures ended up sitting in the drawer of my computer desk for years and I always hoped that I might ultimately do something cool with them, but I couldn’t seem to come up with many worthwhile ideas. After all, they were vacation photos of people who I didn’t know and I didn’t have much insight into their origins. However, I got some fresh inspiration when I revisited a collection of slides that included the missile silo hatch photo featured in another blog post. The response I got to that particular post via social media mortivated me to give my small batch of garage sale pics another look. My initial idea was to try and ascertain when the black and white pics were originally taken, but there are really no clues anywhere on the photos – no date stamps or anything like that. There are, however, a few handwritten notes on the back of the photos with captions like “Along the West Branch River” and “The log jam on Sucker Creek.” After a bit of research, I ultimately determine that the photos were taken in central Michigan. I still couldn’t figure out the exact date of the pictures, though, and the best I could figure is that they were from the mid 1960s. I had, of course, hoped to determine something more specific.

In reading a bit more online about the history of photo paper and the like, I actually stumbled upon something even more fascinating: An endeavor called Algorithmia has created a free service that colorizes black and white photos by utilizing deep learning models. I was intrigued, so I scanned a photo from my garage sale batch for a test run. On the back of the picture was the handwritten caption “White birch on Sucker Creek.” The results – rendered in less than one minute – were breathtaking. Indeed, after holding on to these photos for years, I was finally able to look at one of them in a whole different light, ostensibly seeing the very the scene that the now anonymous original photographer saw somewhere around 50 years ago.

“White birch on Sucker Creek”
(date and photographer unknown)
Original black and white photo.


“White birch on Sucker Creek”
Colorized version via Algorithmia

I’ll be sharing additional colorized photos from this batch (and other sources) in the near future.

Posted in Forgotten photos | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Forgotten photos, rediscovered: White Birch on Sucker Creek

Forgotten photos: Unidentified stationary object

NOTE: After I shared this via social media, some intrepid friends launched their own investigations and came up with a plausible conclusion. I have added their suggestions at the end of this article.

* * *

As I previously mentioned in my post about the Mitchell Corn Palace, I’m slowly working my way through a few batches of 35mm slides that I have acquired at thrift stores and other outlets over the years. Here’s another one, and it’s a bit of a head-scratcher:

Setting and subject unknown, Jan. 1980
Click on the picture for a larger image.

This slide is dated January 1980 and the scene seems like something out of an episode of the old show In Search of…  It is somewhat difficult to figure out the approximate dimensions of the main object. In some respects, it looks like a vent or skylight for an underground chamber. Rather than giving away any clues to the location of this scene, the forest and hills in the background add a bit to the mystery of it all.

I have tried a few times to identify the scene or location shown in the photo and I have yet to come up with any clues.

At this point, I welcome any suggestions as to what the image depicts. If your info checks out, I’ll give you credit here on the site.

The image above was produced using a Wolverine F2D-8 slide & negative scanner.

UPDATE (March 12, 2017): My friend Fowaz noted that the photo above looks a lot like a hatch for a missile silo, sharing a number of images for comparison [Image 1 | Image 2 |  Image 3]. Another friend — who served in the Air Force until retirement — agreed, adding that the hatch might have been for a Titan missile silo.

Posted in Cold War, Forgotten photos | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Forgotten photos: Unidentified stationary object

The Unseen Red Army, part one

The images below are from a small treasure trove of photos I recently obtained from a seller in Lithuania. They offer candid and hitherto unpublished glimpses into the lives of Red Army soldiers from the time of the Great Patriotic War and immediately after.

Many of the pictures in this collection include handwritten inscriptions on the backs of the photos. These inscriptions – where legible – were translated by our friend Grover Furr.

The word on the banner in the chalkboard sketch is “спорт,” or “sport,” which might be related to the boxing gloves that are worn by the mouse.

red army photo

1945 found / situated
in Xol’sus (first letter unclear)

red army photo

Little northern town
In bushes near Konm.
table (?). with service friends. Viktor
Yaukus Vasil’evskaya.

red army photo

Little northern town
“Commutator” N. image
with Viktor.


We’ll post more photos from this collection in the near future.

Posted in art and ephemera, marxism, Russia, Stalin, USSR | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Unseen Red Army, part one